This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," November 24, 2007.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report": An attack of the super bug. The season's most sensational story. How serious a public health threat are infections like MRSA.
Spending Thanksgiving weekend at the airport? You are not alone. Why are there so many delays and can't anything be done.
Legendary rock group the Eagles offend some with too their new album but it is not the songs. We tell you about their very un-P.C. pairing, after the headlines.
GIGOT: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
It is this season's equivalent of shark attacks. Daily reports of new cases of a virulent and drug-resistant bacteria known as MRSA. A practicing physician, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, left the number two spot at the Food and Drug Administration. I asked him how serious this public health threat this so-called super bug really is.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA DEPUTY COMMISSIONER: Well, it is a serious problem. It is not a new problem. This has been a problem ongoing for years now where we have seen more resistant infections particularly in the hospital. Doctors have been confronting hospitalized patient that have these very complicated infections resistant to traditional drugs.
What's changing is we are seeing more and more patients come in from the community with seemingly ordinary infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, bronchitis, even skin infections, that complicated or caused by these very resistant pathogens. That's a big concern to patients and a big concern to doctors because the first instinct is to use the ordinary antibiotic to treat the patients. And then you find out three or four days later when the infection progresses and becomes, in some cases, life threatening it is complicated.
GIGOT: We have read some of these high profile cases, scary cases, of young kids brought in off the street with a seemingly mild malady and somehow they get this terribly virulent fatal infection. But in terms of mortality, overall, across the United States, compared to heart disease and cancer, the big killers, how serious is this? Where does it at this fit in?
GOTTLIEB: It is unclear. The statistics are hard to ascertain. A study by the CDC tried to constituent the prevalence of MRSA by calculating an estimate off of data they collected from about six hospitals. I'm sure how reliable that it. It is fairly significant. People in the hospitals and even the community who succumb to illnesses succumb because of infections.
GIGOT: We're talking tens of thousands fatalities?
GOTTLIEB: We're talking at least ten of thousands, absolutely, from hospital-acquired infections and serious infections. But the "New England Journal" reported about four or five years ago about the rising incidences of community acquired infections being with resistant pathogens. That's really what is new. That's the scary part.
GIGOT: You wrote in our newspaper, the "Wall Street Journal," the following: "As we make progress in fields like cancer, we are taking a U- turn on bacteria." How so?
GOTTLIEB: That's right. Because a lot of the drugs that we have gotten used to using, the mainstay drugs, are not effective against these resistant pathogens. The bugs have learned how to outsmart the drugs.
And when you look at the pipeline of new drugs in development, we don't have a lot of new antibiotics coming along that are fundamentally different enough to attack these very resistant pathogens. And that's because a lot of the companies that invested in this space 15, 20 years ago have gotten out of it. Abbot and Lilly, which were some of the pioneers in antibiotic drug development, got out entirely.
GIGOT: Why have they gotten out? The figures you cited, only 13 new antibiotics under development in the big drug companies compared to 60 10 years ago. That's a startling statistics. What is the problem for these drug companies?
GOTTLIEB: There is a lot of innovation going on in biotech companies so that....
GIGOT: The smaller entrepreneurs?